Curtis Poole, head pastry chef, Chiswell Street Dining Rooms

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th May 2016

Curtis Poole is the head pastry chef at Chiswell Street Dining Rooms. Starting out as a kitchen porter in his local restaurant, the Walrus and Carpenter, it was here that Curtis discovered his love for food and decided to take an all-round course to further his knowledge in all areas of the kitchen. Initially avoiding the pastry classes, Curtis was soon persuaded by his college lecturer to attend at least one class. Much to his surprise he ended up favouring pastry over other areas of the kitchen. Prior to Chiswell Street Dining Rooms, Curtis was pastry sous chef at London’s Skylon restaurant and has worked for five-star properties including Macdonald Bath Spa Hotel and JW Marriot Grosvenor House in London.

When the Staff Canteen caught up with Curtis we found out why dealing with stressed chefs is the toughest area of the kitchen to master and why he hates trifle.

You have been head pastry chef at Chiswell Street Dining Rooms for almost a year now, how is it going?

It’s going really well, I really enjoy it here and the company (ETM Group) really look after me. They give me quite a lot of freedom with everything I get to do. But the hardest part for me has really been trying to do all of the admin work that comes with the job. I’ve always been in the kitchen so as soon as I get plonked in front of a computer screen my brain fries and I can only take so much of it! I’ve done small amounts of admin stuff in other jobs but the admin side of being a head chef is crazy! I try and crack down first thing on a Monday to get it all done.

What has been the most challenging part of the role?

I think the most challenging part of the job is taking myself away from the kitchen to do the admin.

Can you tell us a little more about the pastry masterclasses at Chiswell Street Dining Rooms?

We usually hold these over the summer because that’s when people seem to have more interest. It’s a real perk of the job, I haven’t done it anywhere else so as soon as they said I could do masterclasses it was brilliant. It’s really nice to teach people who love food and have a passion for it but can’t get to a kitchen. When they do the classes they get to learn all the kitchen secrets, about the produce, where it comes from, how to use it, etc. They also get to see me make it and get stuck in too so it’s really good. I did a chocolate truffles masterclass not too long ago and that’s probably the best one for them to get stuck into. I made about 60 truffles and they get the chance to dip them into all different types of toppings, add different fillings and also learn how it’s all made at the same time.

So what made you want to become a pastry chef?

I was always around good food as a kid, my parents are big foodies so I have always learnt from my mum and dad and thought I would give it a go myself.

My first job was at a restaurant called the Walrus and Carpenter. It was a little restaurant in Bath which was open for about

Spiced pumpkin brûlée, cinnamon  ice cream with   muscavado meringue

Spiced pumpkin

brûlée, cinnamon  ice cream with 

 muscavado meringue

35 years before it closed. It was the day my dad kicked me out and said “don’t you dare come back to this house until you get a job”, that I started working there as a kitchen porter and then slowly began learning basic knife skills, etc. It was from there that I decided to move into the food side of the industry and enrolled on a course to learn about all aspects of the kitchen. I actually hated the pastry section the most to begin with. It was the one side of it where I thought I’ll skip that, until the lecturer suggested I try it and I ended up really liking it.  

Who was your biggest influence in the industry growing up?

I think my biggest influence was moving to London and seeing the difference in terms of pace - going from quite a slow paced environment in Bath to the busyness of London really exceeded my expectations. In terms of who has inspired me, I had a college lecturer give me a book on Charlie Trotter who has loads of restaurants in America. At the time I used his work to give me loads of ideas, I thought what he was producing at the time was extremely technical compared to the dishes I had been doing, but looking back they probably seem really outdated now.

You have worked for a number of high profile restaurants throughout your career, what one has been your favourite to work for and why?

That’s a hard one, I’ve taken a lot from every restaurant that I’ve worked in. I met my wife at the Paternoster Chop House. I would say that ETM has given me the best opportunities in terms of career progression and also getting to work alongside some fantastic people such as Pieter Fitz and James Lyon-Shaw. The other one would have to be the Bath Spa Hotel which is where I got a feel for pastry and became really passionate about it. My colleague sent me on a work experience course at the Bath Spa Hotel and they actually kept me on so I quit my job and went to work for them. I remember learning to make chantilly cream for the first time and thinking it was the best thing in the world and ended up putting it with absolutely everything.

Info bar 

Where they’ve been –

The Walrus and Carpenter

Bath Spa Hotel

The Bath Priory

Marriott Grosvenor House

Peter Jones Department store

Paternoster Chop House

Skylon

Chiswell Street Dining Rooms

Signature dishes –

Wild strawberry soufflé with vanilla ice-cream and speculoos crumb

Valrhona dark chocolate salted caramel tart with boozy cherries and pistachios

Coconut and lime panna cotta with a zesty brittle and basil and lime sorbet

‘Desert island desserts’ –

Eleanor’s shortbread millionaire (my mother-in-laws shortbread millionaire)

Sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and clotted cream

 Triple chocolate fudge sundae

My mum’s cherry pie

Banoffee pie with whipped cream

How did you find working with Michelin starred chef, Adam Grey when you were at Skylon?

I think Skylon has got to be one of the most highly pressured environments I have ever worked in. There’s no letting up and it’s constant. I think working with Adam Grey really showed me what sort of person I want to be in terms of any kind of working/professional environment. He has a theory in the way he works and you kind of follow in his footsteps and mould yourself into that.

I read you were the only pastry chef at Paternoster Chop House, how stressful was it being the only one? Did other chefs pitch in to help?

It wasn’t really that stressful at all to be honest, it was a really nice place to work and there are some really great people there. The Chop House is a British restaurant, so going from being quite high in pastry at the Bath Spa Hotel to the Chop House really made me think I needed to go back to my roots. It’s a business area and the clientele are more men on their lunch breaks so they do just want big hearty food. I really enjoyed working there, it was absolutely fantastic.

How many pastry chefs do you have working with you now at Chiswell Street Dining Rooms?

It’s actually quite a small team again, it’s just me and another colleague but something tells me this will be changing very soon. I think they have some big plans for me but I won’t say any more.

How would you describe your style of food?

My wife calls it yummy and complicated which is probably how I would describe her. But in all seriousness I would say it’s modern British food with technical touches. I also like taking my childhood favourites and putting my own twist on it. I really liked recreating the classic wagon wheel with a malted horlicks ice-cream. It’s taking the old classics that I love and changing them up to fit the concept of the restaurant.

With so many specialised areas in pastry, what would you say is your favourite and why?

I would put laminating pastry up there with some of my favourites along with macaroons because everybody loves a macaroon. If you master that and get it right every time it can be a pretty good feeling when you know you can do it blindfolded.

Are there any areas in pastry you would like to learn more about?

I’d like to know more about wedding cakes, I do a lot of birthday cakes and celebration cakes for ETM Group but being able to offer the whole package for clients at Chiswell Street would be fantastic. Getting my wedding cake knowledge and ability up-to-scratch will definitely be something I would like to look into.

What techniques are you currently using?

Lamination skills is one that has really developed over time. Coming up with fantastic puff pastry may not seem like the most technical thing to make but what goes behind making something like that is pretty technical and the buzz you get out of making a really good puff pastry is quite nice.

What is the toughest area for a young pastry chef to master?

The pressure from stressed senior chefs, it’s just that panicky feeling when you see a big mess when you open the oven and having to explain it to a senior member of staff.

I think for me leaving a work place where you already feel comfortable to work for another restaurant is also one of the most stressful things. It’s leaving after learning how a place works and moving to somewhere new that is completely different.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to enter the industry?

You don’t really get many people looking to get jobs in the industry nowadays, I would just say don’t talk or try to justify your actions and absorb everything you can. I think the best piece of advice I can give is to master concepts and one area at a time. Repeat that area over and over again until it sinks in because as a young chef there is only so much you can take on board. It’s better to just focus on one thing and get that absolutely perfect before you move on to the next. 

What dish are you most proud of and why?

I did one not so long ago - it was a really nice smoked lapsing and vebena ice cream with a chai cremeux macaroon and peppermint aero white chocolate, it’s probably the fanciest aero ever.

What I liked about the dish was all the technical aspects about it but it wasn’t too over complicated on the plate.

Do you remember the first dessert you ever made?

There was no Chantilly cream on it! I must have been about 7 years old when I made my first dessert, I made my mum a strawberry trifle sundae with whip cream and a cherry on top for mother’s day. I hate trifles now because whilst I was at the Chophouse the head chef wanted trifle on the menu but the amount I was making has well and truly put me off for life!

 

 

 

 

 

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th May 2016

Curtis Poole, head pastry chef, Chiswell Street Dining Rooms